I am not a vegan. Not even close. My general rule is, if it tastes good, eat it. All that aside, it would be unfair to review a vegan restaurant by directly comparing it to a non-vegan counterpart. There are a few different ways to approach vegan cooking. One is to pretend that the food is not vegan, and to try and emulate the exact flavor and texture of traditional meat. The other is to embrace the plant-forwardness of the dishes and to experiment with various cooking methods, in order to draw out unique and unusual flavors. Both require knowledge of food science, creativity, and tenacity. Beatnic largely sticks to the latter and occasionally emerges successfully.
Their SoHo restaurant is small and unfussy, with all orders placed at the counter. The music is relaxed and vaguely indie-inspired. I get the sense that we will leave and not smell prominently like fried food. The service is warm and efficient and gives the air of an upscale fast-food chain; the food and drinks arrive within ten to fifteen minutes.
Drinks at Beatnic
The pomegranate lemonade has a huge flavor, is fantastically tart, and deeply fruity. In a sea of food laden with creamy nut-based sauces, this provides the needed acidity to cleanse the palate. It also tastes deliciously fresh and surprisingly springtime worthy.
Sides & Shares
When I ask the woman at the counter if I should order the Buffalo Cauli Poppers or the original Crispy Cauli Poppers, she doesn’t hesitate before recommending the spicy version. They are a very pleasant surprise, with a battery that is light instead of bready, and with the cauliflower being cooked perfectly – it doesn’t taste like a chicken wing, but it also doesn’t have the wateriness that this vegetable can sometimes exhibit.
The buffalo sauce is on the milder side and lacks the buttery mouthfeel of the buffalo sauces I grew up with, but still coats the Poppers well and brings the familiar tang and aroma to the dish.
The Mac N’ Cheeze
The Mac N’ Cheeze is listed on-site as a fan favorite, but it falls flat on several levels. I order it with gluten-free pasta, and while the pasta does not disappoint texture-wise, it seems to have more flavor than the Cheeze sauce itself.
Made with sweet potato and cashews, the sauce is creamy but completely lacks any semblance of cheese flavor. It is somewhat savory but the prominent taste comes from the starchy pasta water. The shiitake mushroom bacon is not particularly bacon-y but also provides slight relief from the overwhelming blandness of the Cheeze sauce. The almond parm is laughable and tastes like absolutely nothing.
The only redeeming quality of this dish is that it reheats remarkably well in the microwave – gluten-free pasta has an unfortunate tendency to become brittle and dry upon reheating, but the richness of the sauce likely spared it from dehydrating entirely.
The Cup O Queso
After the Cheeze sauce, I approach the Cup O Queso with trepidation. Instead, I am delighted to find that this oat milk-based queso is actually very tasty. Rich and spicy, it tastes strongly of chili powder and has the consistency of a thick chowder.
Again, it’s not cheesy, but it is infinitely better than the Mac N’ Cheeze, and I briefly consider debasing the latter by pouring the queso on top. In the end, I decided to dunk a noodle into the queso, and it tastes exactly as it sounds – like a noodle dunked in a queso. Not bad, but definitely not amazing.
The queso is supposed to be eaten with the Air Baked Fries, but the lovely staff gives us an assortment of made-in-house sauces as well, so we mix and match. There is a fruity sauce, a Dijon mustard, honey mustard, more buffalo sauce, and a barbeque sauce.
All the sauces are acceptable, but the barbeque is smoky and sweet and is the one I return to the most often. The fries themselves are a bit stale, as if the air fryer hadn’t been the right temperature or if they had been sitting out for too long before serving.
They come in sweet potato and regular, and the sweet potato fries are clearly the superior of the two; they have a more satisfying mouthfeel and dried out less than the regular fries.
The Guac Burger does not remotely try to taste like beef, and I respect this. It tastes extremely vegetal, but in a surprisingly satiating way, thanks to the generous quantity of guacamole and other accouterments.
The patty is savory, made with lentils and pea protein, and provides enough heft to stand up to the multiple toppings and textures. The guac and corn salsa are perfect complements, and the tortilla strips add a delightful crunchy element. Overall a very successful vegan burger – my only complaint is that the whole grain bun tastes too healthy.
Even prior to reviewing the restaurant, the Chicky Chicky tempeh piqued my interest when perusing the online menu. In-person they are even more interesting, with a truly meaty texture, weight, and flavor. Deeply crispy, they fit perfectly in your hand, with a smart triangle design that allows for maximum sauce dippage. A must-try here at Beatnic.
While I am a person who consumes meat several times a week, I am not immune to the growing popularity of veganism. Whether you are an animal lover or a tree hugger, there is no better time to experience plant-forward menu options, and there is no better place to experience them than the New York metropolitan area, where the demand is high and competition is fierce.
Beatnic easily cruises into the middle of the pack with some stand-out dishes such as the Chicky tempeh and Cauli Poppers, while other attempts (looking at you, Cheeze sauce) are less appealing. This is a new era of culinary art and knowledge, and I’m truly excited to see where vegan food will go.
Three Best Bites
- The Chicky Chicky tempeh (with appropriate extrapolation to any of their Chicky sandwiches).
- The pomegranate lemonade.
- The Buffalo Cauli Poppers.
Want to see more? Check out the Instagram profile of Beatnic.